What was once the greatest rivalry in the NFL may be back with Sunday night’s game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title. Robert Griffin III will try to lead the Redskins to the playoffs after a 3-6 start, while Tony Romo and the Cowboys hope to make the postseason after starting 3-5.
Former Redskins coach George Allen famously once said, “Every time you win, you’re reborn. When you lose, you die a little.”
Allen helped start the rivalry by making the Cowboys the enemy. Harvey Martin, Randy White, Diron Talbert, Dexter Manley and others kept it going.
Here are summaries of the three biggest games in the history of the rivalry, which was most intense in the 1970s and 1980s.
NFC Championship Game, December 31, 1972: Redskins 26, Cowboys 3
Billy Kilmer threw two touchdown passes to Charley Taylor, who had 146 yards receiving, as the Redskins routed the Cowboys at RFK Stadium. The Redskins held Roger Staubach to 98 yards passing in one of the most one-sided games in the rivalry. The Redskins earned their first trip to the Super Bowl where they lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, 14-7. Like the 1982 NFC Championship Game, this game was a turning point of sorts. In 1972, the Cowboys were the defending Super Bowl champions while the Redskins were in the playoffs for the second time in a row after a 25-year absence. The Redskins would make the playoffs five times in six seasons from 1971 to 1976 under coach George Allen.
December 16, 1979: Cowboys 35, Redskins 34
A win against the hated Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the last game of the regular season would have put the Redskins in the playoffs for the first time since 1976. A loss? That would be hard to take. The way it happened was utterly devastating. It was the worst regular season loss in Redskins history.
Joe Theismann and John Riggins were in their prime. Theismann ran for a touchdown and threw for another. Riggins rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns, including a 66-yard score that put the Redskins up 34-21 with 6:34 to go. Somehow, Dallas came back, with touchdown passes from Roger Staubach to Ron Springs and Tony Hill in the final 2:20.
The Cowboys had ripped the hearts out of the Redskins. After the game, Harvey Martin threw a funeral wreath into the Redskins locker room. Riggins quit football for a year. And the 10-6 Redskins missed out on the playoffs by point differential. The Chicago Bears needed to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals by more than 33 in their final game to get the final playoff spot in the NFC. The Bears won, 42-6, knocking the Redskins out of the playoffs.
NFC Championship Game, January 23, 1983: Redskins 31, Cowboys 17
Dallas had won six straight NFC East titles before the 1982 season. Washington hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1976. The RFK Stadium crowd was electric. The bleachers were bouncing up and down. John Riggins ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley knocked Cowboys quarterback Danny White out of the game with a sack at the end of the first half. White’s replacement, Gary Hogeboom, threw a fourth quarter pass that Manley tipped and defensive tackle Darryl Grant intercepted and ran into the end zone. The game was a turning point for both franchises.
The game marked the fifth time in six years the Cowboys appeared in the NFC Championship game. They wouldn’t make it back for 10 more years. The Redskins went to four Super Bowls in the next decade, winning three, including Super Bowl XVII 27-17 over Miami in January of 1983. See a video of the Redskins’ triumph over Dallas here.
To read about the rest of the best 20 games in the history of the rivalry, click below: